Practice Parameter: Treatment of postherpetic neuralgia: An

Practice Parameter: Treatment of postherpetic neuralgia: An
evidence-based report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of
the American Academy of Neurology
R. M. Dubinsky, H. Kabbani, Z. El-Chami, et al.
Neurology 2004;63;959-965
DOI 10.1212/01.WNL.0000140708.62856.72
This information is current as of September 27, 2004
The online version of this article, along with updated information and services, is
located on the World Wide Web at:
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Special Article
Practice Parameter: Treatment of
postherpetic neuralgia
An evidence-based report of the Quality Standards
Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology*
R.M. Dubinsky, MD, MPH; H. Kabbani, MD; Z. El-Chami, MD; C. Boutwell, MD; and H. Ali, MD
Abstract—A systematic review of the literature on postherpetic neuralgia was performed. The authors identified studies
using the National Library of Medicine’s Medline database and Cochrane Library database. The authors determined
absolute reduction rate, number needed to treat (NNT), 95% CI for NNT, and number needed to harm (NNH) for
successful therapies of postherpetic neuralgia. Tricyclic antidepressants, gabapentin, pregabalin, opioids, and lidocaine
patch were found to be effective in reducing the pain of postherpetic neuralgia.
NEUROLOGY 2004;63:959 –965
Acute herpetic neuralgia is characterized as burning,
aching, electric shock like pain, or unbearable itching in association with the outbreak of a herpes zoster rash. The pain is associated with dysesthesias,
paresthesias, hyperalgesia, hyperesthesia, and allodynia (production of pain by innocuous stimuli).1 The
pain may precede the onset of the herpetic rash and,
rarely, herpetic neuralgia can occur without the development of a rash.2 Postherpetic neuralgia, persistence of the pain of herpes zoster more than 3
months after resolution of the rash, is relatively common, affecting 10 to 15% of those with herpes zoster.
Zoster-associated pain is used to describe the continuum of pain from acute herpes zoster to the development of postherpetic neuralgia. The time interval
used in the clinical case definition of postherpetic
neuralgia varies in the literature from 1 to 6 months
after resolution of the rash. The incidence of postherpetic neuralgia increases with age.3 The duration of
postherpetic neuralgia is highly variable. In a longitudinal study, of those who developed postherpetic
neuralgia, only 48% were symptomatic 1 year after
onset.4,5 A prospective study of postherpetic neuralgia, performed through a network of primary care
Additional material related to this article can be found on the Neurology
Web site. Go to and scroll down the Table of Contents for the September 28 issue to find the title link for this article.
providers in Iceland from 1990 to 1995, showed that
14 of the 25 who developed postherpetic neuralgia
were symptomatic 12 months after onset.6 Thus, the
natural history of resolution of postherpetic neuralgia over time is a confounder in the evaluation of
treatment efficacy and may limit the ability to generalize the results of controlled clinical trials in this
Administration of antiviral agents within 72
hours of the onset of herpes zoster can reduce the
intensity and duration of acute illness, and can prevent postherpetic neuralgia,7 as may the use of amitriptyline.8 Efforts at prevention of herpes zoster and
postherpetic neuralgia are important in that 40 to
50% of those with postherpetic neuralgia do not respond to any treatment.9 The treatment of acute herpes zoster10 and the prevention of postherpetic
neuralgia are beyond the scope of this parameter.
This practice parameter was developed to answer
the following clinical question: In patients with
postherpetic neuralgia, which treatments provide
benefit in terms of decreased pain and improved
quality of life?
Process. We searched the National Library of
Medicine’s Medline database and the Cochrane database for peer-reviewed articles published between
1960 and August 2003, updating in January 2004,
*Members of the Quality Standards Subcommittee are listed in the Appendix on page 964.
Approved by the QSS in October 2003 and by the Practice Committee in November 2003. Approved by the AAN Board of Directors in June 2004.
Received October 3, 2001. Accepted in final form May 20, 2004.
Address correspondence and reprint requests to the American Academy of Neurology, 1080 Montreal Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55116-2325.
Copyright © 2004 by AAN Enterprises, Inc.
Table 1 Classification of evidence and formulation of recommendations
Translation of evidence to
Rating of recommendation
A ⫽ Established as effective,
ineffective, or harmful for the given
condition in the specified population
Level A rating requires at least one
convincing class I study or at least two
consistent, convincing class II studies
B ⫽ Probably effective, ineffective, or
harmful for the given condition in
the specified population
Level B rating requires at least one
convincing class II study or at least
three consistent class III studies
C ⫽ Possibly effective, ineffective, or
harmful for the given condition in
the specified population
Level C rating requires at least two
convincing and consistent class III
U ⫽ Data inadequate or conflicting.
Given current knowledge, treatment
is unproven.
Rating of therapeutic article
Class I: Prospective, randomized,
controlled clinical trial with masked
outcome assessment, in a representative
The following are required:
a) Primary outcome(s) is/are clearly
b) Exclusion/inclusion criteria are clearly
c) Adequate accounting for dropouts and
crossovers with numbers sufficiently low
to have minimal potential for bias.
d) Relevant baseline characteristics are
presented and substantially equivalent
among treatment groups or there is
appropriate statistical adjustment for
Class II: Prospective matched group cohort
study in a representative population
with masked outcome assessment that
meets a–d above OR a RCT in a
representative population that lacks one
criteria a–d.
Class III: All other controlled trials
(including well-defined natural history
controls or patients serving as own
controls) in a representative population,
where outcome assessment is
independent of patient treatment.
Class IV: Evidence from uncontrolled
studies, case series, case reports, or
expert opinion.
using MeSH terms herpes zoster/*complications and
neuralgia/*treatment. We first reviewed titles and
abstracts of these articles, searching for interventions that decrease the pain of postherpetic neuralgia. Inclusion criteria were articles 1) that addressed
alleviation of pain in postherpetic neuralgia, with
duration of at least 8 weeks after healing of the
herpetic rash, 2) were prospective, retrospective, or
case series studies that provided clinical information
on the subjects who received treatment, 3) that provided detailed methodology, and a clear outcome
measure, 4) whose primary purpose was to demonstrate a decrease of pain related to postherpetic neuralgia, and 5) where treatment was feasible for an
outpatient setting. Based upon this initial review,
selected articles were then reviewed in their entirety
by two of the authors. We searched for additional
articles in the references of review articles on the
treatment of postherpetic neuralgia, and by Medline
searches using the names of authors who had published several articles on herpes zoster treatment.
From articles meeting our search criteria, we compiled an evidence table by extracting methodologic
characteristics: method and setting of cohort assem960
September (2 of 2) 2004
bly, number, sex, and age of patients studied, duration of symptoms, duration of follow-up, and number
of subjects lost to follow-up. For class I and class II
studies, we calculated, where possible, absolute risk
reduction (ARR) (the proportion of the control group
with benefit minus the proportion of the treated
group with benefit); number needed to treat (NNT)
for adequate pain relief (the number of subjects who
need to receive treatment for one patient to have
substantial benefit, corrected for placebo response,
as determined by the authors of the study); 95% CI
of the NNT; and number needed to harm (NNH) (the
number of subjects that need to receive treatment for
one patient to suffer harm), defined as an adverse
event sufficient to cause withdrawal from treatment.
All were calculated using intent to treat analysis. We
scored articles on class of evidence using criteria in
table 1. If the reviewers were discordant on the level
of evidence, discussion was held until the level of
evidence was resolved. Based upon literature on
treatment of chronic cancer pain, we defined adequate pain relief of postherpetic neuralgia (in articles using the visual analog score [VAS] or a Likert
scale) as reduction of pain to below 4, or reduction of
Table 2 Treatment categories for postherpetic neuralgia
Group 1:
Medium to high efficacy, good
strength of evidence, and low
level of side effects
Lidocaine patch
Oxycodone or morphine sulfate,
controlled release
Tricyclic antidepressants
Group 2:
Lower efficacy than those
listed in group 1, or limited
strength of evidence, or side
effect concerns
Aspirin in cream or
Capsaicin, topical
Group 3:
Evidence indicating no
efficacy compared to placebo
Group 4:
Reports of benefit limited to
class IV studies
Benzydamine cream
Methylprednisolone, epidural
Vincristine iontophoresis
Vitamin E
Dorsal root entry zone lesion
Extract of Ganoderma
He:Ne laser irradiation
Morphine sulfate, epidural
Piroxicam, topical
Stellate ganglion block
Triamcinolone, intralesional
* While there were no severe adverse effects in the reviewed studies, there is potential for chemical meningitis and arachnoiditis with
the use of intrathecal methylprednisolone. Methylprednisolone is not approved by the US FDA for intrathecal use in this indication.
The concurrent use of intrathecal lidocaine carries the risk of hypotension and respiratory depression. Therefore, these injections are
best given by experienced medical personnel in a hospital setting.
the VAS or Likert scale by 50%.11 When other methods of assessment of pain reduction were used, we
adopted the authors’ definition of moderate (or
greater) improvement. Mechanical allodynia can be
as debilitating as the chronic component of postherpetic neuralgia. This type of pain was not always
assessed in the peer-reviewed literature. As such, it
is not discussed further here.
Internal and external review of the document.
The first author drafted the document with input
and approval from other work group members. After
QSS review and approval, the document was circulated to members of AAN Member Review Network
and to heads of sections of the AAN. These reviews
were addressed before submission to Neurology.
Analysis of the evidence. A total of 206 articles
met the original Medline search criteria. A total of
111 articles pertained to the treatment of postherpetic neuralgia and were reviewed in their entirety.
Forty-two met the predefined inclusion criteria. Nine
additional articles meeting the inclusion criteria
were found by the search of the bibliographies of
review articles, by searching Medline using names of
primary authors in the original search. The evidence
table for all studies is available on the Neurology
Web site at (table E-1).
Tricyclic antidepressants. Eight of 22 articles on
use of tricyclic antidepressants met inclusion criteria. In two class I studies,12,13 four class II studies,14-17
and two class IV studies,18,19 tricyclic antidepressants
were found to be of benefit in treatment of postherpetic neuralgia (table 2).
In two class II studies amitriptyline was compared
to placebo16 and lorazepam15 and was found superior
to lorazepam and to placebo. A double-blind, placebocontrolled, crossover study found that VAS was decreased with amitriptyline. ARR was 65% and NNT
was 1.6 (95% CI 1.2 to 2.4).16 In a randomized,
placebo-controlled, multi-armed crossover study, amitriptyline was found to be superior to both lorazepam and placebo (NNT ⫽ 3.2, 95% CI 2.1 to 6.6).15
Both amitriptyline and nortriptyline, when studied in a randomized, double-blind, crossover trial,
resulted in decrease in the VAS (67% of each group
reported at least a good response to treatment) and
were designated by subjects to be effective in controlling pain (class II).20 While there was a similar magnitude of benefit for both, fewer side effects were
reported with nortriptyline. Desipramine was compared to benztropine as an active placebo, in a randomized placebo-controlled study.14 ARR was 63%
and NNT was 1.6 (95% CI 1.1 to 2.6).
In a randomized, double-blind, crossover study,
both amitriptyline and maprotiline reduced the VAS
when compared to baseline (class II).12 Amitriptyline
had slightly greater efficacy than maprotiline (NNT
⫽ 32 for amitriptyline over maprotiline).
A recent double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial compared efficacy of tricyclic antidepressants and opioids in comparison to placebo.13 The
study was designed to emulate clinical practice. If a
subject failed to have improvement during the titration phase a backup medication from the same class
was used (desipramine if nortriptyline was not tolerated and methadone if morphine was not tolerated).
Forty-four of the initially randomized 76 subjects
completed all three treatment periods. Both opioids
September (2 of 2) 2004
and tricyclic antidepressants had similar proportions
of treatment responders (ⱖ50% reduction in VAS)
with a trend toward favoring opioids (opioids, NNT
⫽ 3.0, 95% CI 2.0 to 5.5; tricyclic antidepressants,
NNT ⫽ 6.2, 95% CI 3.2 to 294). For primary treatments slow-release morphine was more effective
than nortriptyline in reducing the pain of postherpetic neuralgia. While there were more side effects
reported with opioids, there was little impairment on
cognitive testing and more subjects preferred opioids
to tricyclic antidepressants.
Conclusion. Based upon class I and class II evidence, the tricyclic antidepressants amitriptyline,
nortriptyline, maprotiline, and desipramine are effective in lessening the pain of postherpetic
Antiepileptic drugs. Six of 37 articles that included antiepileptic drugs met inclusion criteria. Of
these, three were class I and are discussed further.
In a multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled,
double-blind study with 225 subjects, gabapentin,
which blocks the ␣2␦ subunit of a voltage dependent
Ca2⫹ channel,21 was found to be of benefit in reducing the pain of postherpetic neuralgia (class I).22
Eighty-three percent received ⱖ2,400 mg and 65%
received 3,600 mg daily. The average decrease in an
11-point Likert scale (labeled graduated pain scale
from 0 to 10) was 2.1 on gabapentin and 0.5 on
placebo. Based upon the subjects’ global perception
of benefit 66 out of 94 subjects (who responded) on
gabapentin had improvement (NNT ⫽ 2.2, 95% CI
1.7 to 3.0 for any improvement, NNT ⫽ 2.8 for moderate improvement). Intolerable adverse effects leading to withdrawal from the study from gabapentin
were dizziness (5.3%) and somnolence (4.4%) compared to the 1.7% who experienced somnolence on
placebo (NNH 10.3). A large multicenter, randomized, double-blind, clinical trial compared gabapentin
1,800 mg/day, 2,400 mg/day, and placebo, with a stable dose maintained for the last 4 of the 7-week
study.23 A 50% or greater decrease in pain, as measured by an 11-point Likert scale, occurred in 74/223
of the subjects on gabapentin (no difference was
found between the two doses), but only in 16/111 of
those on placebo (ARR ⫽ 29.5%, NNT ⫽ 5.3 [95% CI
3.6 to 10.2]). More subjects dropped study medications on gabapentin (34/223) than on placebo (7/111,
NNH ⫽ 11.2). No difference was found in response
rate or adverse event rate for the two doses of gabapentin. In a multicenter study pregabalin, an ␣2␦
ligand, at a dose of 600 mg/day, resulted in half of
the subjects having a ⱖ50% reduction in pain compared to 20% on placebo.24 (NNT 3.3, 95% CI 2.3 to
5.9.) Thirty-two percent of subjects discontinued pregabalin due to dizziness, somnolence, or other adverse
events compared to 5% on placebo (NNH ⫽ 3.7).
There is only class IV evidence of the use of carbamazepine in postherpetic neuralgia.
Conclusion. Based upon two class I studies of
gabapentin and a single class I study of pregabalin,
these antiepileptic drugs are of benefit in the reduc962
September (2 of 2) 2004
tion of pain from postherpetic neuralgia. Data are
insufficient to reach a conclusion on the use of
Opioids. Five of 12 articles on use of opioids in
postherpetic neuralgia met inclusion criteria. Of
these, one class I13 and two class II17,25 are discussed
further. A 50% decrease in the VAS was reported for
22 of 38 subjects who completed a double-blind,
placebo-controlled, two way crossover study of
controlled release oxycodone (class II, ARR ⫽ 65%,
NNT ⫽ 2.5, 95% CI 1.7 to 5.1).17 Overall dropout rate
was 24%. Rate of discontinuation due to treatment
failure was similar in both arms (23%). Only one
subject stopped treatment because of side effects
from the controlled release oxycodone (NNH ⫽ 38),
while the rest did so because of lack of benefit. In a
longitudinal study on use of controlled release oxycodone or morphine, 16 out of 18 subjects had continued benefit after 5 months of treatment (class IV).26
Five of 20 subjects stopped morphine due to intractable nausea and vomiting. Two were successfully
switched to controlled release oxycodone and one to
In the randomized placebo-controlled crossover
study described above, opioids were compared to tricyclic antidepressants and to placebo.13 Overall, opioids were preferred by the subjects who completed
all treatment arms and were well tolerated.
Tramadol, a centrally acting ␮ opioid agonist and
a reuptake blocker of norepinephrine and serotonin,
was compared to placebo in a multicenter randomized controlled clinical trial (class II).25 A greater
than 50% reduction in pain was reported for 49/63
subjects on tramadol compared to 35/62 on placebo.
(NNT ⫽ 4.7, 95% CI 2.9 to 19.)
Epidural morphine sulfate was given in an ascending dose after initial placebo injection (class IV).
No benefit was found from injection of epidural morphine while one subject experienced a 71% decrease
in the VAS after insertion of epidural catheter that
lasted for over 6 months and another had a 50%
reduction in pain after initial injection of saline
Conclusion. There is class I evidence that long
acting oral opioid preparations and class II evidence that tramadol provides relief in treatment of
postherpetic neuralgia.
Topical and intradermal agents. Six of 18 articles on the use of topical anesthetics met inclusion
criteria. Based upon an open label (class IV) study of
5% lidocaine gel covered by an occlusive dressing,27 a
double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover study was performed demonstrating a decrease
in the VAS over the 8 hours of application. Benefit
persisted for over 4 hours after removal (class I).28
There were three randomized, placebo-controlled,
double-blind studies of lidocaine in a woven polyethylene patch. In a crossover design of single treatment session in 35 subjects, the average pain relief
was 12.3 mm on the VAS from a baseline severity of
48 mm (class I).29 Benefit was reported in 91% of
subjects, using time to exit as a primary outcome
measure in a comparison of lidocaine in polyethylene
patch and placebo.30 Only patients with clinical open
label improvement with topical lidocaine patch
(range of use 0.09 to 8.67 years) were recruited for
this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled
study with enriched enrollment. Subjects exited the
arm if they felt that pain relief was inadequate. In
this enriched population, time to exit for placebo was
3.8 days and ⬎14 days for lidocaine patch (class II,
NNT ⫽ 2, 95% CI 1.4 to 3.3). A decrease was found
in the Neuropathic Pain Score (NPS-10) for subjects
using a 5% lidocaine patch compared to placebo
(class II, downgraded from class I).31 The primary
purpose of this post hoc analysis was to determine
the utility of the neuropathic pain scale in postherpetic neuralgia.
Eleven articles on the use of topical antiinflammatory agents were considered and eight met
the criteria. In a randomized, double-blind study, a
decrease of 73% in VAS was reported for both topical
aspirin in ointment and for 5% lidocaine gel when
compared to baseline pain intensity (class III, downgraded from class I because of the comparison of two
active agents to baseline condition, inclusion of subjects with postherpetic neuralgia 4 weeks after acute
herpes zoster, and a lack of complete baseline information on pain severity).32 Based upon an earlier
pilot study,33 a randomized, double-blind, placebocontrolled crossover study of anti-inflammatory
agents was performed on 22 subjects. Aspirin/diethyl
ether cream was found to decease the VAS, with an
ARR of 32% (NNT ⫽ 3, 95% CI 1.7 to 26.1), but
indomethacin/diethyl ether and diclofenac/diethyl
ether did not (class II).34 There is class II evidence
that benzydamine cream is not of benefit.35 There is
only class IV evidence for the use of aspirin in chloroform, piroxicam gel, benzydamine cream, and iontophoresis of methylprednisolone.
Capsaicin causes degeneration of intracutaneous
nerve fibers. Nine of 24 articles on use of capsaicin
met inclusion criteria. In a 6-week randomized,
double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 0.075% capsaicin (class I), there was a reduction in the VAS
score in 48 of the 74 subjects who received capsaicin
(NNT ⫽ 3.2, 95% CI 2.1 to 6.3).36 However, magnitude of benefit was a maximum of a 23% decrease in
baseline VAS after 4 weeks. Burning was reported in
60% of subjects on capsaicin vs 30% on placebo. However, no subjects stopped treatment because of adverse effects. Seventy-seven of 83 subjects in the
2-year open label continuation of the study were able
to maintain pain relief with capsaicin. In the class II
study there was a 30% reduction in VAS (from 71
mm to 49 mm) at the end of 6 weeks.37 Rate and
magnitude of benefit varied greatly among class IV
In a randomized, placebo-controlled, single-blind
study of iontophoresis of vincristine, only minimal
benefit was found and all subjects reported burning
at electrode sites (class II).44 Reports of benefit from
topical application of lidocaine gel,45 topical lignocaine/prilocaine cream,46 intralesional injections of
triamcinolone,47-49 and cryocautery with dry ice50
were limited to class IV studies.
Conclusion. Based upon class I evidence, topical
lidocaine is effective in reducing the pain of postherpetic neuralgia. Based on class II and class III evidence, aspirin in ointment or cream is probably
effective in reducing the pain of postherpetic neuralgia. The magnitude of benefit for topical capsaicin
and for aspirin in cream is below the level that is
considered clinically important in treatment of
chronic pain.
NMDA antagonist. Based on the possibility that
NMDA antagonists play a role in the processing of
nociceptive inputs, the NMDA antagonists ketamine,
dextromethorphan, and memantine have been tried
in treatment of postherpetic neuralgia. Three of six
articles on use of NMDA antagonists met inclusion
criteria. In a randomized, placebo-controlled, doubleblind, crossover study of high doses of dextromethorphan, there was no improvement when compared to
placebo.51 Five of 18 subjects could not complete the
dextromethorphan arm of the study due to sedation
(class II). Long lasting benefit has been reported in
one subject using ketamine in several forms (class
IV).52 In a randomized, controlled clinical trial memantine was not superior to placebo (class II).53
Conclusion. There are single class II studies
with evidence for the lack of efficacy of the NMDA
antagonists dextromethorphan and memantine in
treatment of postherpetic neuralgia.
Other modalities. An independent observer was
used in a randomized, controlled, single-blind study
of four weekly injections of 60 mg of preservativefree methylprednisolone; given either intrathecally
or into the epidural space (class II [methylprednisolone is not approved for intrathecal administration by the US Food and Drug Administration;
preservative-free methylprednisolone is not currently available in the United States]).54 There was
substantial benefit for the intrathecal group at 1 and
24 weeks after completion of the series, with a NNT
of 1.4 (95% CI 1.0 to 2.1). No benefit was found with
epidural injections. A more extensive study of a different population of 277 patients was performed by
the same group using the same 4-week paradigm.55
In this double-blind, randomized, controlled clinical
trial (class I) of patients who had failed conventional
treatments, with symptom duration of 38 ⫾ 19
months, subjects were randomized to receive 60 mg
of preservative-free methylprednisolone in 3 mL of
3% lidocaine, 3 mL of 3% lidocaine, or control group
which did not undergo lumbar puncture. A physician
blinded to treatment assignment performed independent assessment of pain. Ninety percent of the methylprednisolone group had good to excellent relief of
pain at end of the treatment, which continued
through the 2 years of follow-up (NNT ⫽ 1.3, 95% CI
1.2 to 1.5). No adverse events were reported in 2
years of follow-up of their subjects. Case series of
September (2 of 2) 2004
subjects who have received intrathecal methylprednisolone for other conditions report a risk for development of chemical meningitis, transverse myelitis,
and chronic arachnoiditis.56
In a class II study lorazepam was no different
than placebo in the control of postherpetic neuralgia.15 In a randomized study that compared acupuncture to sham transcutaneous electrical stimulation
(TENS), using a blinded independent assessor, neither treatment resulted in improvement over baseline pain severity (class II).57 This negates the two
case series (class IV) showing benefit for acupuncture.58,59 There were only class IV studies of He:Ne
laser irradiation, nicardipine, chlorprothixene, biperiden, extract of Ganoderma lucidum, dorsal root
entry zone lesions, stellate ganglion block, and vitamin E.
Conclusion. Based on single class I and II studies, intrathecal methylprednisolone was effective in
reducing the pain of postherpetic neuralgia. Due to
the invasive nature of this treatment, potential for
preservative-free methylprednisolone, it should be
considered only after agents noted above have been
tried and failed. The minimal benefit reported for
iontophoresis of vincristine is negated by side effects.
postherpetic neuralgia (Level U, single class II
study and class IV studies).
6. There is insufficient evidence at this time to make
any recommendations on the long-term effects of
these treatments.
Disclaimer. This statement is provided as an educational service of the American Academy of Neurology. It is based on an assessment of current scientific
and clinical information. It is not intended to include
all possible proper methods of care for a particular
neurologic problem or all legitimate criteria for
choosing to use specific procedures. Neither is it intended to exclude any reasonable alternative methodologies. The AAN recognizes that specific patient
care decisions are the prerogative of the patient and
the physician caring for the patient, based on all the
circumstances involved.
1. Tricyclic antidepressants (amitriptyline, nortriptyline, desipramine, and maprotiline), gabapentin, pregabalin, opioids, and topical lidocaine
patches are effective and should be used in the
treatment of postherpetic neuralgia (Level A,
class I and II). There is limited evidence to support nortriptyline over amitriptyline (Level B, single class II study) and the data are insufficient to
recommend one opioid over another. Amitriptyline has significant cardiac effects in the elderly
when compared to nortriptyline and desipramine.
2. Aspirin in cream is possibly effective in the relief
of pain in patients with postherpetic neuralgia
(Level C, class II and III) but the magnitude of
benefit is low, as is seen with capsaicin (Level A,
class I and II).
3. In countries where preservative-free intrathecal
methylprednisolone is available, it may be considered in the treatment of postherpetic neuralgia
(Level A, class I and II).
4. Acupuncture, benzydamine cream, dextromethorphan, indomethacin, epidural methylprednisolone, epidural morphine sulfate, iontophoresis
of vincristine, lorazepam, vitamin E, and zimelidine are not of benefit (Level B, class II).
5. The effectiveness of carbamazepine, nicardipine,
biperiden, chlorprothixene, ketamine, He:Ne laser
irradiation, intralesional triamcinolone, cryocautery, topical piroxicam, extract of Ganoderma lucidum, dorsal root entry zone lesions, and stellate
ganglion block are unproven in the treatment of
September (2 of 2) 2004
Future research. Further areas for research in
treatment of postherpetic neuralgia should expand
upon variety of treatments, the natural history of
postherpetic neuralgia, and response of the various
components of the pain of postherpetic neuralgia
(dysesthesias, paresthesias, hyperalgesia, hyperesthesia, and allodynia) to treatment. The contribution
of evoked pain in the outcomes assessment of treatment of postherpetic neuralgia needs to be further
addressed. The case definition of postherpetic neuralgia has changed, with a trend toward a longer
duration of symptoms required to distinguish postherpetic neuralgia from acute herpetic neuralgia.
This is a major confounder in any attempt to generalize the results of many studies. Direct comparison
studies of topical and oral agents are needed. Research into use of combinations of therapies and
therapies aimed at disease modification needs to be
addressed. Long-term efficacy of treatments of postherpetic neuralgia must be compared to the natural
history for resolution of postherpetic neuralgia.
Quality Standards Subcommittee members: Gary Franklin, MD, MPH
(Co-Chair); Gary Gronseth, MD (Co-Chair); Milton Alter, MD (ex-officio);
Charles E. Argoff, MD; Steven A. Ashwal, MD (ex-officio); Christopher
Bever, Jr., MD; Jody Corey-Bloom, MD, PhD; John D. England, MD; Jacqueline French, MD (ex-officio); Gary H. Friday, MD, MPH; Michael J.
Glantz, MD; Deborah Hirtz, MD; Donald J. Iverson, MD; David J. Thurman, MD; Samuel Wiebe, MD; William J. Weiner, MD; and Catherine
Zahn, MD (ex-officio).
1. Merskey N, Bogduk N. Classification of Chronic Pain, IASP Task Force
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September (2 of 2) 2004
Practice Parameter: Treatment of postherpetic neuralgia: An evidence-based
report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of
R. M. Dubinsky, H. Kabbani, Z. El-Chami, et al.
Neurology 2004;63;959-965
DOI 10.1212/01.WNL.0000140708.62856.72
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